Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Black Rock Forest hike

Sutherland Pond by TheTurducken
Sutherland Pond, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
On Sunday, I went on a hike at Black Rock Forest. This conservancy used to be an experimental forest owned by Harvard but is now open to the general public. It's in the same vicinity as West Point, a little north of Harriman State Park.

We got there via bus to Highland Falls (query: why does it cost more to travel an hour north than it does to take the bus to Philly?), but the trail isn't right on any route, so we had to hike through the streets, past the freeway, to get to the trail proper. Most of the hike was on roads, in fact - but old dirt roads in the forest.

The forest has half a dozen ponds, all but one of which are used as reservoirs. We stopped to swim in Sutherland Pond, the sole exception. The weather had lightened up enough to make swimming pleasant; the morning had been overcast, and the forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms. Thankfully, those didn't materialize.

The hike totaled nearly 13 miles. It was a pleasant hike with a few nice views, typical scenery from what I am beginning to understand of the area.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Not everyone starts capoeira at the same place, and not everyone progresses at the same pace. Someone who starts capoeira at age 20 after ten years of karate will take to it more quickly than a 50-year-old who has always been exercise-averse. Natural ability plays a role, as does one's current level of fitness - and, of course, how frequently one trains.

It quickly became clear to me when I started that the only advantage I had was seven years of yoga, which had improved my flexibility and balance. Still, I have never had strength or speed (I'm made for endurance), and I've always found understanding motion by watching it to be difficult. And, of course, in your very first class, everyone is better than you.

My mom tells a story of when I was a baby, I clearly wanted to learn to sit up. My stomach muscles weren't developed enough yet, so I would lie there and try and try and end up screaming and trying again. Somewhere in my youth, though, I lost that determination. I figured out I was better at some things than others, and I put my effort into them. That's generally rational, but sometimes the things you are good at involve a smattering of things you aren't so good at, so what are you going to do? And some things we all have to do, like it or not. Few of us become skilled at washing the dishes out of an innate love or talent.

So, the natural thing for me to do would have been to give up capoeira after a few lessons.

Instead, I made a deal with myself. I would not compare my progress to anyone else's. I deliberately said, "It's okay if other people learn a movement faster than me, or if they get cordaos faster than me. I expect that and accept it." Because that was the only way I could avoid beating myself up for not "winning" at training.

The point wasn't to get out of working hard or to give myself permission to skip a lot of classes. On the contrary: The other end of the bargain with myself was that I had to take training seriously. The only advantage I could bring to the table, besides my yoga background, was regular training. Even if I was progressing slowly, I wanted my teachers to know that I was committed to progressing.

I had a conversation about this very topic the other day with a friend who is years and miles ahead of me. Yet he spoke of certain other advanced students as being naturally talented, while he had to work very hard, and said that it was difficult for him not to compare himself to them. I know he trains hard (and, that rarest of traits, does so without making a big show out of it). I don't know how accurate his assessment of his talent was, but it was reassuring to me that sheer stubbornness could get someone that far.

And I do get better, slowly, in spite of myself. Maybe I have a little more of that screaming baby in me still than I thought.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A tiny bit less debt

Cats and kittens, I am pleased to announce that my credit card debt is now below $20,000.

That may not sound impressive (because that's still WAY too much credit card debt), but it does represent a concerted effort the last few months to pay these things down.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kushiel's Parachute

I recently finished Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart (which is not nearly the cheese-fest I expected, by the way), in which a woman is born into a certain career path by virtue of her eye color. Not in a let's-persecute-the-brown-eyes way, but in a "that color is linked to certain personality traits" way.

This is a common theme in fantasy, as many others have pointed out. Mieville even wrote a book deliberately to subvert it. Sometimes, one is chosen by genes or midichlorians or some inborn trait: Will in The Dark is Rising is born as a member of the Old Ones, so he never has to read What Color is Your Parachute. Other times, Gandalf comes along and says, "Yo! Hobbit! I've got a six-pack of dwarves and an adventure, and you're coming with me."

It's not just the heroes, though. In fantasy, nearly every character does what they are born to do, be it farming their family's land or ruling the kingdom. In fact, not following the family roles has to be explained away. In McKinley's The Blue Sword, Damarians follow roles their class and parents expect - unless they see visions when drinking special water. In Spindle's End, the princess isn't the princess, because of magical interference. (This is a book that manages to simultaneously uphold and subvert the notion of destiny.) In many books, the only reason a peasant rises high is because he is actually of royal birth. And the rest of the peasants aren't unhappy they're peasants, because that just suits them.

Partially because of this, fantasy (especially epic fantasy) has been called reactionary and conservative. No doubt there are some fantasy fans who long for the day when men were men, women were beautiful, and you could tell a wizard by the color of his aura. But I think it also speaks to people who don't long for the good old days, to people who appreciate the work of suffragettes, the anti-slavery movement, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and queer theory. In our culture, we are dazzled by choice, and we long for certainty.

Make no mistake, the numbers clearly show that Americans have less class mobility than previous generations, but we First Worlders still have more choices than most people throughout most of time. Not only can we choose careers, but we can dress goth or preppy or hippie, we can get married young or never, we can take up cricket or softball. (Here, I am indebted to recent conversations with my sister about why young people aren't going to church; only 15% of young adults who attended some kind of services as kids will return to any church as adults. Having choices is only one of many reasons, but it's not an insignificant one.)

I mean, look at me. I studied different things as an undergrad, masters student, and doctoral student. I've worked in jobs with no clear connection and considered others seriously. (Did you know, there was a period when I even thought about the Coast Guard? That would have been a disaster.) The idea of knowing, for certain, that "this is what I'm meant to do" sounds very comforting. The thought of a system that naturally gives everyone satisfying life choices a cozy (and impossible) dream.

Back to the book that sparked this: I liked the book, and I have no desire to hold it up as a particularly egregious example. As Carey has pointed out, the book is actually intended to subvert certain tropes. And you can't subvert all the tropes at once, or the original pattern is lost altogether. (And that's a whole other post.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tuxedo Four Lakes Circular Hike

Lake Sebago by TheTurducken
Lake Sebago, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
I hiked with a new group today, nearly 15 miles in Harriman State Park, and I was nervous because it had been a month since my last hike. I was afraid I'd embarrass myself by being out of shape. However, my worries were unfounded. We hiked at a moderate pace (about 2.5 mph), but the hike was mostly flat, and the weather wasn't brutally hot.

We hiked on the west side of the park, doing a loop that passed by four of the park's lakes. We stopped for a long break Lake Wanoksink, and since swimming is prohibited, of course we didn't do any such thing.

This photo is from the edge of Lake Sebago, the biggest of the four.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I got back into town from my Michigan trip about a week ago. (I hesitate to call it a "vacation," as we were gathered for my grandmother's memorial service.) after getting home, I spent five days hibernating and procrastinating. Yes, I left the house to go to the grocery store or capoeira class; yes, I got some work done, but not nearly as much as I should. Mostly, I stared slack-jawed at the internet. I finally got back to being productive Monday.

The question is, why? One, I haven't had any kind of break. Summer might be less work, but it's not zero work, and I haven't taken any kind of vacation that gets me away from responsibilities or even email. Two, I'm slightly more introverted than extroverted, and I've had to do a lot of "on" time lately. Too much emotional labor or face-work (choose your favorite theory). Staring at the internet might be the most pathetic kind of staycation, but I guess my brain finally rebelled and said, "Yo, I'm not doing anything."

There are really only five free days after this semester ends before I have to be here in NYC for the fall semester, and it's dubious as to whether I will manage to actually not be last-minute busy. That keeps me on the go until Thanksgiving, which I have an adventure in mind for (stay tuned). There won't be any weekend trips, because I teach Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. I can't complain, as I chose that schedule, but I don't think I'll do that again in the spring.

It's not that I'm working 80 hours a week - it's just that I can't get a real mental vacation. Again, my own fault. Way to be lame, self.

Monday, July 2, 2012

10-year anniversary

You may have noticed the little link at the right to "Hikes." I started tracking my hikes midway through 2002, but I'd been hiking since not too long after I graduated from college and moved to Seattle; it seemed like something people in the Northwest did. I'm missing, I'd estimate, at least two years of hikes. (A group of us went to Mt. Rainier for a long weekend each of the two years before I started tracking hikes.) Most of these missing hikes, like the early recorded ones, were in Washington state. The Yellowstone trip (and the first attempt at St. Helens) were my last hurrah before moving to Indiana.

I didn't hike much in Indiana. After my first year of grad school, I spend a summer in Colorado, where I hiked most weekends. I tried to keep it up after returning for my second year before being derailed by what turned out to be an IT band injury. This was quickly diagnosed after moving to Tennessee for my PhD, and you can see that PT and exercise got me back onto the trail.

Most of the hikes before the end of 2006 don't have links to photos. I only had a point-and-shoot film camera and didn't take a lot of photos. But for my birthday in 2006, I asked for and got a digital camera. Revolution! Occasionally, there is no photo for a well-traveled local hike, but otherwise my trips are overly documented now.

More recently, you can see a hiccup upon my move to New York; only one hike between last July and this March. Without a car - and without knowing the area - it was more of a challenge to get places. I was busy working. And many Saturdays I had capoeira classes. I've begun to make it more of a priority this summer, but I'm struggling with getting to good hiking areas without a car.

Still, it's been a good ten (or 12) years, and I'm looking forward to more hikes, in more places in the years to come.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Bond Falls by TheTurducken
Bond Falls, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
Today we drove out to the UP's Bond and Agate Falls. Both are very short walks from the road (anybody short, not just Turducken short). Bond Falls has a really nice boardwalk around the falls that provides some great views. Agate Falls, alas, is likely as pretty, but the developed trail only leads to this disappointing view from above. There is a trail that is more of a scramble to the base, which we didn't do.